How Did Black Southerners Respond When War Was Declared?
By: Vernon R. Padgett, Ph.D.
When the war started in 1861 there were public demonstrations of support for the Confederacy by blacks throughout the South (Wesley, 1937, p. 141; Rollins, 1994, p. 2).
The largest demonstration came in New Orleans. A mass meeting attended by black residents was held just after the news arrived from Fort Sumter. They organized a regiment of black Confederate troops with black officers (New Orleans Picayune, 24 Nov 1861; Annual Cyclopedia, 1864, p. 202.)
In Nashville a company of free blacks offered their services to the Confederate government, and in June the state legislature authorized Gov. Harris to accept into Tennessee service all male persons of color (Wesley, 1937, page 153).
In Memphis in 'September a procession of several hundred free blacks marched through the streets under the command of Confederate officers. "They were brimful of patriotism, shouting for Jeff Davis and singing war songs" (Memphis Avalanche, 3 Sept 1861).
In Montgomery, blacks were seen being drilled and armed for military duty (Wesley, 1919, p. 242).
Two companies of black Confederates were formed in Ft. Smith, Arkansas (Rebellion Record, 46, in Rollins 1994).
Similar occurrences took place in Virginia. In Lynchburg, 70 men enlisted to fight for the defense of Virginia soon after it seceded; a local newspaper raised "three cheers for the patriotic Negroes of Lynchburg" (Ibid; Wesley, 1937, p. 142).
One hundred free Negroes reported for service to aid the Confederacy in Petersburg, Virginia, on 26 April 1861, and were addressed by the mayor. One of the Negroes stepped forward to receive the Confederate flag, and said “We are willing to aid Virginia’s cause to the utmost of our ability … there is not an unwilling heart among us … we promise unhesitating obedience to all orders that may be given us” (Petersburg Daily Express, April 23, 26, 1861).
In late April 1861 in Richmond, 60 black men carrying a Confederate flag asked to be enlisted. In Hampton, 300 blacks volunteered to serve in Artillery batteries (Quarles, 1955, p. 36).
In Petersburg, a group of blacks who had volunteered to work on defenses held a mass rally at the courthouse square. The former Mayor, John Dodson, presented them with a Confederate flag, and promised them "a rich reward of praise, and merit, from a thankful people” (Oblatala, 1979, p. 94).
In April of 1861, a company of 60 free blacks marched into Richmond with a Confederate flag at the head of their column. They volunteered their services to the military, but were sent home after being complimented for their show of Southern patriotism (Barrow, 2001).
Conclusion: How did black Southerners respond? They responded in the same ways that white Southerners responded.
Why did blacks fight for the South? Because an enemy army was invading their country, raping women, burning and looting homes, and attacking the only life they knew.
Barrow, C. K., Segars, J. H., & R.B. Rosenburg, R.B. (Eds.) (2001). Black Confederates. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.
Oblatala, J.K. (1979). The Unlikely Story of Negroes Who Were Loyal to Dixie. Smithsonian, 9, page 94.
Quarles, Benjamin (1955). The Negro in the Civil War. Boston: Little, Brown.
Rollins, Richard, Ed. (1994). Black Southerners in Gray: Essays on Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies. Rank and File Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 172 pages.
Wesley, C. H. (1919). The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army. Journal of Negro History, 4, 242.
Wesley, C. H. (1937). The Collapse of the Confederacy. New York: Russell & Russell.
Originally published at http://www.rebelgray.com/BlackResponse.htm